United States District Court, D. Montana, Great Falls Division
Morris United States District Court Judge
Richard Allen Granbois (“Granbois”) moves the
Court, pursuant to Rules 12(b)(3)(C) and 41(h), to suppress
evidence obtained from a search of his car, based on the fact
that the officer obtained the evidence in violation of his
Fourth Amendment rights. (Doc. 22). The Court conducted a
hearing on this matter on November 11, 2018. (Doc. 32).
Patrol Trooper Derek Werner (“Trooper Werner”)
traveled east on Highway 2 to assist Fort Peck Tribe's
Law and Justice Officers Jay Brugh and Michael Booth with a
traffic stop in Poplar, Montana. (Ex. B USAO 00008, at 2).
Trooper Werner followed Granbois's car as he entered
Poplar's city limits. Id. Granbois entered the
center lane, signaled his intent to turn, stopped and waited
for multiple cars to pass, then safely made a left turn off
Highway 2 and onto 5th Avenue Southwest. (Doc. 22, at 2).
painted median marked with double-yellow lines on either
side, with large diagonal-yellow lines inside the
double-yellow lane lines, covers the center lane. (Ex. A).
Trooper Werner initiated a traffic stop of Granbois's car
based on his understanding that Granbois could not stop his
car in the center lane and initiate the left turn from the
center lane. (Doc. 31 at 2). The traffic stop led to a
seizure and search of Granbois's car. (Ex. C, at
6:17:52). The search yielded multiple firearms,
methamphetamine, hashish, marijuana, and other paraphernalia.
(Doc. 22-2, Ex. B. at 6; USAO 00012).
ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is
‘reasonableness.'” Brigham City v.
Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 403 (2006). A fact-specific
reasonableness inquiry applies to Fourth Amendment questions.
See Ohio v. Robinette, 519 U.S. 33, 39 (1996). The
Court must evaluate the totality of the circumstances in
making a reasonable-suspicion determination. United
States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 273 (2002).
Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and
seizures. U.S. Const. amend. IV. “A search or seizure
may be permissible even though the justification for the
action includes a reasonable factual mistake.”
Heien v. North Carolina, 135 S.Ct. 530, 534 (2014).
Traffic stops constitute seizures under the Fourth Amendment.
Id. at 536. An officer initiating this type of
seizure needs only “reasonable suspicion-that is, a
particularized and objective basis for suspecting the
particular person stopped [is] breaking the law.”
Id. (internal quotations omitted).
reasonable differs from being perfect. Id. The
Fourth Amendment allows for some mistakes on the part of
government officials in order to give them “fair leeway
for enforcing the law in the community's
protection.” Id. (citing Brinegar
v. United States, 338 U.S. 160, 176 (1949)). The
limit is that the mistakes must be objectively reasonable.
Id. Even when lawful, however, a traffic stop may
violate the Fourth Amendment if executed in a manner
inconsistent with the protections of the Constitution.
Illinois v. Cabelles, 543 U.S. 405, 407 (2005).
argues that lawfully turned from Highway 2 onto 5th Avenue
Southwest. (Doc. 22 at 1). Granbois alleges that no signs or
other traffic devices prohibit drivers from turning left from
Highway 2 onto 5th Avenue Southwest. Id. at 4.
Granbois claims that the lack of signs or other traffic
devices, combined with traffic laws set forth in the Montana
Code Annotated, allow a left turn to be made legally at this
intersection. Id. Granbois concludes that the
unlawful nature of the traffic stop and the subsequent search
of his vehicle violated his Fourth Amendment right.
Id. at 6.
government argues that Trooper Werner lawfully initiated the
traffic stop. (Doc. 31 at 3-8). Trooper Werner testified that
based on his training and experience he reasonably believed
that Granbois's “movement into the closed median
and subsequent left turn violated multiple Montana traffic
laws including MCA §§ 61-8-333(3), 61-8-336(1),
61-8-328(3), and 61-8-328(5).” Id. at 2.
Accordingly, the government argues that nothing about the
traffic stop and the subsequent search of the vehicle
violated Granbois's Fourth Amendment rights. Id.
hearing oral argument, and after reading over each
parties' brief, the legal significance of the painted
median and its diagonal yellow lines remains ambiguous. Both
parties have failed to offer any conclusive information on
the significance of the yellow diagonal lines found at the
intersection of Highway 2 and 5th Avenue Southwest.
Supreme Court in Heien v. North Carolina, ___U.S.___,
___ 135 S.Ct. 530, 536 (2014), determined that the Fourth
Amendment allows for objective mistakes of law on the part of
government officials. The officer in Heien initiated a
traffic stop of a suspicious vehicle due to a faulty brake
light. Id. at 534. The officer explained to the
driver that he had stopped the car for the brake light, and
“that as long as [the driver's] license and
registration checked out, [the driver] would receive only a
warning ticket for the broken light.” Id. The
records check revealed no issues, but the officer became